Goodluck Jonathan at CHOGM 2011

Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria President Alhaji Yar'Adua talks with N...

Late Nigeria President Alhaji Yar’Adua

“There are three times in a man’s life when it’s useless to hold him to anything: when he is madly in love, drunk or running for office.”
Robert Mitchum.

A little over two years ago, President Umaru Musa YarAdua died, providing a natural solution to a messy political and legal logjam that was to haunt the rest of his planned four – year term. It is a sign of the present times and the conditions we live under that the Anniversary was barely noticed. There were certainly a lot more pages with paid adverts congratulating the Governor of Jigawa State for receiving an honourary degree than those which reminded the nation that its President died two years ago. Both his entrance and his exits were tumultuous events, and Umaru YarAdua’s life and death will be marked as significant watersheds in Nigerian history. He did not, strictly speaking, hand over the baton to President Jonathan. You could say he dropped it, and Jonathan had to pick it with considerable difficulty in a race which started with so much promise, finished in a most controversial manner.

Umaru YarAdua was a good but complex man. He had many good intentions, and a bag full of personal and political limitations. He came into the Presidency in 2007 on the back of the most condemned election; from a Governor in a state where he learned that Nigerians politics bred intense bitterness and took no prisoners. His entire campaign for the Presidency of Nigeria was planned, funded and carefully choreographed by others who saw huge opportunities to milk his Presidency. He tagged along, with his own agenda carefully tucked away, hoping that when, not if, he became President, he would make a clean break with history.
He began well, denouncing the election that brought him to power, and committing himself to reform the electoral process. He failed to do this, when it became clear that reform in the manner the Committee under Chief Justice M. L. Uwais proposed, would transform our electoral system beyond the capacity of his party, the PDP to control and manipulate. His commitment to entrench the rule of law and fight corruption remained hollow slogans, as corruption became entrenched in the circle which surrounded him, and the rule of law found expression only in pamphlets. Grand visions involving developments of infrastructure and reforms in the power sector, petroleum and gas and land administration were defeated by massive corruption which had dug in, and an indifferent and lethargic public service. A resolution of the crippling crimes under the name of militancy in the Niger Delta involved potentially dangerous and expensive concessions, and the jury is still out over the long-term value of the Amnesty Programme. A substantially weakened President was persuaded to give a shoot-at-sight order literally on his way out of the country when the Yusufiyya insurgency was threatening to overwhelm the Police in Maiduguri. In the execution of the order, the leader of the insurgency was executed, and the nation is being reminded of that act almost daily with bombs and bullets. An even weaker President was sold the dummy that tinkering with the rules of the public service under a tenure policy will transform the public service. The alarming crash in standards, efficiency and moral courage in the public service is the result the nation is paying for this folly. Competent and experienced hands are being retired at moments when they are most needed, and the shocking revelations and unprecedented levels of stealing around pensions and the subsidy scams are in reality evidence of the failure of the public service to protect the public and public resources from pillage.
A weak and a sick President is a liability to governance, but a weak and sick President who was propped up by interests which had scant regards and respect for the law or the national interest became a major threat. The undignified and untidy efforts made to prolong YarAdua’s Presidency and keep Jonathan away at all cost necessary (and unnecessary) did little justice to the personal ideals of Umaru himself who, for all his failings, actually saw power as a transient element. In sickness and in the manner his death came about, the foundations of a bitter succession and the perception of an parochial resistance against a Jonathan presidency took roots.
From the moment the law was turned on its head by a national resolve to end the drift after it became clear that Yar’Adua couldn’t continue, the Jonathan presidency was marked by an indelible perception that it had to fight every inch of the way against massive northern resistance. The underdog image was given a boost in the contest for the PDP ticket, and the gang-up of northern politicians in the PDP against Jonathan’s candidature created opportunities to tap into massive primordial sentiments and sympathies. Now a northern, Muslim enemy became easily identifiable, and the foundations of much of the character of our present political environment were laid.
President Jonathan’s full watch began on the ashes of four basically wasted years, when the nation moved from a crippled presidency, to one shackled by petty and destructive opportunism and fatal miscalculations. He came with a mentality that is substantially hostage to its recent past, and the riots which followed his announced victory further exposed dangerous faultiness which the political contest that produced his presidency had made more pronounced. Against a perceived far northern resistance, President Jonathan’s people whipped up their own regional passions. Our politics has never been more tribalized, and the centrality of faith in politics and governance never more pronounced.
With a mandate all of his own since 2011, the nation could legitimately ask what all that struggle by President Jonathan to become President was all about? To prove that he had a right to aspire and occupy the position, yes. To prove that South South people can ‘rule’ Nigeria, yes. To prove that the northern establishment could be humbled and humiliated, yes. But what about going beyond the pound of flesh? Is it purely coincidental that Jonathan’s watch has been marked by the most frightening manifestation of threats to our security, and revelations of mind-boggling corruption? Certainly, it is fair to say that he had inherited some of these problems, but Jonathan was part of the Presidency since 2007, and effectively President since 2010. To say his presidency has been crippled by incipient regional hostility, a determined insurgency and unspeakable corruption is akin to saying that thieves have made the night guard’s job difficult. The job of the guard is to keep the thieves away, and not use them as the excuse for perennial theft.
By any standards of judgment, President Jonathan’s watch is a difficult one. But he wanted job, and he got it. From the moment he sat in Yar’Adua’s chair, he called the shots. Now he is being judged by how he responds to the challenges he faces. Will he reign in run-away corruption by prosecuting people who swindled us of trillions in fraudulent subsidy? Can he prosecute the big names behind the pension scam; the collapse of the capital market; the scandalous sales or ‘dashing’ of our assets under the privatization programme? Can he find a way to limit and eliminate the dangers posed by the Boko Haram insurgency? Can he make a tangible difference between now and 2015 in the areas of power supply, unemployment among the youth and reform of the electoral process? The job of being a Nigerian President must be the most difficult in our current circumstance. It’s made more difficult because President Jonathan cannot blame anyone, if during his watch, Nigeria sinks deeper into crises.


Dr. Hakeem


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